Sunday, June 11, 2017

Celebrating Cape Breton's heritage and connections through music: Celtic Colours Live volume 4

Cape Breton lies in the far north of Nova Scotia, in Atlantic Canada. There are parts of the island which do not look lot like Scotland, and places where it looks very like. Places where it sounds like Scotland, too: Cape Breton is almost alone as a place outside Scotland where Scottish Gaelic is spoken. Spoken and sung, that is. When immigrants -- some seeking a better life, some fleeing political and economic strife, some driven from their homes-- came over from Scotland, they often brought with them few material goods. They did, however, bring their songs, their tunes, their dances, and their stories.

They found First Peoples tribes on Cape Breton, and across the years, as more people from Scotland came, so too came folk from Ireland, from the United States, from central Europe, from Scandinavia, from other parts of Canada. The heart of Scotland’s culture beat strongly through all this, sharing influences and being influenced by landscape, weather, and life on an island as well as crossing paths with people from these other backgrounds. So a unique culture emerged, connected to Scotland but different, one that could -- and still does -- celebrate the distinctions as much as the connections.

Every year in autumn the people of Cape Breton invite the world home to experience this. For nine days in October each year beginning just before Thanksgiving in Canada, concerts and cultural events are staged all across the island in communities large and small, in purpose built concert halls, churches of many faiths, school houses, fire halls, pubs, historic sites from one end of the island to the other. This is the Celtic Colours International Festival.

The music is both focused and diverse, There are tradition bearers from Cape Breton, and rising stars. There’s always good representation from the other provinces of Atlantic Canada, from Ireland, from the United States, from across the rest of Canada, and naturally from many parts of Scotland. Both tradition bearers and rising stars are part of these strands of music as well.

You may be reading this in summer and thinking: Why am I hearing about this now since it happens in October?

One reason is the recording Celtic Colours Live volume four. Through thirteen tracks recorded live as they happened in venues across the twentieth anniversary season of the festival in 2016, you will get a fine feeling for what the music of Celtic Colours is like.

In a concert from the Acadian part of the island in Belle Cote, Le Vent du Nord kicks things off with rousing Quebecois style. Fiddle tunes from Andrea Beaton and Liz Carroll hold a lively dialogue among Cape Breton, US, and Irish strands, from an event recorded at the Dangerous Duos concert in Mabou.

That Dangerous Duos concert, by the way, is a good taste of what Celtic Colours does so well -- not only do old friends get to meet up and play music together, but people who don’t usually play together join up. Scheduled or not, the results are always well worth the hearing. There are several other collaborations from the Dangerous Duos evening on Celtic Colours Live volume four.

Speaking of collaborations: the whole of The Unusual Suspects band could be seen as that. In Scotland, musicians Corrina Hewat and Dave Milligan had the idea of creating a folk orchestra, with players from the varied regions and traditions of the country. Not an easy task to pull off -- but they did it, and have kept it going for some time. They’ve brought it to Celtic Colours before, too, where they become The Unusual Suspects of Celtic Colours by adding top Canadian musicians to the mix, folk such as, in 2016, Wendy MacIsaac, Lisa MacNeil, and Daniel Lapp. Scottish and CB tunes made up the band’s Finale Set, which is what appears on record for this album. Not quite as high energy as being there, but almost.

There is plenty of high energy music on the recording, and at the festival itself. There are quieter times too, though, and these are well represented. Top Scottish storyteller in song Archie Fisher joins up with CB guitarist Cyril MacPhee for the Buddy MacDonald song We Remember You Well. Newfoundland trio The Once. who are Geraldine Hollett, Phil Churchill, and Andrew Dale, bring their original song Gonna Get Good. Scotland’s Dougie MacLean joins up with Canada by way of Scotland guitarist Tony MacManus for the song Talking With My Father -- listen out for that guitar on this track.

There’s more -- Gaelic song from students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Irish fiddle from Liz Doherty, Americana and Canada meeting up in the work of April Verch and Joe Newberry, and of course Cape Breton music and artists through it all.

It is no easy task to make a live recording work. This one does on all counts, with the music, the hints of audience sound, the occasional tapping or step dancing feet, and the sense of presence in the venues. Congratulations to Jamie Foulds, who recorded, mixed, and mastered the tracks, and Declan O’ Doherty, who produced.

If you happen to be reading this in summer, you’ll want to know that the Celtic Colours Festival will be announcing the artist line ups near the end of June, and tickets will go on sale in mid July for the festival, which will take place in 2017 from 6 to 14 October. In addition to half a dozen or so concerts each evening of the festival, there are talks, workshops, art exhibits, farmers and craft markets, community meals, storytelling times, music sessions, ceilidhs, events for children... keep your eye out on the festival web site for information about all these things.

One other thing: For every ticket sold for the 2017 festival, there will be a maple tree planted on Cape Breton Island.

You may also wish to see
Scotland’s Music a Different Way: The Unusual Suspects.
Sounds of Cape Breton
Cape Breton Music: Remembering Raylene Rankin
Celebrating Canada and Newfoundland: The Once
Canada’s music: Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy
Tony McManus: The Maker’s Mark

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Songs of Hope: Let the Light In

As the lines of history unfold, there are days when it seems -- and is-- very dark. Music however can be a way to uplift, to connect, to let the light in, to help each other along the way. Two such songs are

Love Is on Our Side, seen here in a vintage clip from the television show Texas Connection. Tish Hinojosa continues to write and sing eloquently of many things. This song, which you may find on her album Homeland, speaks to timeless ideas of connection, hope, and struggle.

Carrie Newcomer is always looking, she says, “to find the sacred in the ordinary, the everyday.” That comes through in this song, which is is called A Shovel Is A Prayer. In it she uses familiar images and ideas to speak of reflection, gratitude, and hope. It is recorded on her album The Beautiful Not Yet.

In both of these songs, there’s full recognition that following the ways of hope, trust, and connection is often neither easy nor obvious. It takes courage; it requires reflection. Music such as Tish Hinojosa and Carrie Newcomer have created her, and continue to create, makes a thoughful companion for the journey.

You may also wish to see
Songs of Hope, Gracias a la Vida part of a series here at Music Road
Music of Resilience, part of series I am writing at Wandering Educators
Tish Hinojosa: Our Little Planet
Music and Mystery: Conversation with Carrie Newcomer continues

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Songs of Hope, Gracias a La Vida

At times silence and reflection are ways to consider deep change -- although I agree that things have been a bit too silent here at Music Road of late. I hope you have been enjoying perusing the ten years of archives, though -- I have been pointing some of those stories out to you over on Twitter. I am there as @kerrydexter if you care to follow.

Music is a good companion for such times. Not so much in the sense of protest songs -- though they have their place, anger only gets you so far, and it's not sustaining for good choices in the long run, either. Compassion, friendship, reflection, good questions, faith, community -- thos things help with hard times and sustaining hope and focus.

There will be much more music to come here along the music road. I invite you to stay tuned, and in the meantime take a listen to Tish Hinojosa and Joan Baez singing Gracias a la Vida -- Thanks to Life.

Baez has recorded the song on her album Gracias a La Vida

An album from Hinojosa you may like is

You may also wish to see a few other things I have been writing on related subjects
at Wandering Educators Music of Resilience
at Perceptive Travel Crossing Borders in Music
at Wandering Educators Songs of Friendship
here at Music Road Songs of Hope part one

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Music in times of change

In the midst of change and uncertainty, it’s often a good idea to take time for contemplation and reflection, time to find interior silence -- even when there may not be much in exterior circumstances to encourage that.

Music is a good gateway to silence. That can seem a paradox, but recall that creating music is as much about the notes as the space between them. It has been said that a painter paints on canvas, and a musician paints on silence.

With those ideas in mind, take a listen to these four pieces of music.

At times music without words -- tunes, in the Celtic music world -- invite this sort of reflection. Fiddle player and composer Hanneke Cassel draws on the traditions of Scotland and Cape Breton with hints of bluegrass, Americana, and occasional inflections to other places her travels have taken her. Take a listen to the Gretl in the Garden set, which you may find recorded on her album Trip to Walden Pond.

Songwriter Carrie Newcomer often looks to intersections of faith and the everyday to frame her stories. Hers is a clear eyed faith and a clear hearted look at living both in the moment and seeing threads of connection, grace, and spirit that pull through, now and then laced with humor too. In this song, Newcomer reminds that in times of uncertainty it is often wise to, as she says in the title of her song, Lean In Toward the Light. The song is recorded on her album The Beautiful Not Yet.

Music can be a gift of hope, whatever the circumstance. Cara Dillon knows this. Dillon comes from Northern Ireland and loves to perform and record music from the folk traditions of Ireland and Scotland. She recognizes ideas that connect across time and oceans, too. This song, Bright Morning Stars Arising, has engaged Dillon’s audiences from Ireland to Scotland to China. You may find it on her album A Thousand Hearts.

The members of the band Capercaillie have taken their music to Africa, the middle east, North America, and other points across the globe. Their base, and the heart of their music, is in their home in Scotland, however. You will hear references to Scotland in this song -- the poetry of Sorely Maclean, for instance. It is a piece that invites more than one listen for both melody and words, though, and connects with ideas of contemplation, reflection, and trust whatever place you may call home. Karen Matheson sings lead. The song and the album where you will find it are both called At the Heart of It All.

You may also wish to see
Gaelic, family, story: Karen Matheson
more about Cara Dillon’s album A Thousand Hearts
Music, silence, and spiritual journey
Music and mystery: conversation with Carroe Newcomer

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Songs of Hope 4

Friendship. In these times when the political and social world seems to be tilting in ways unexpected, keeping the light of friendship and encouragement burning with people you know and trust is a subject upon which to reflect, and reflect again.

Kathy Mattea has said that she likes to find songs which keep teaching her lessons, and that she has found that this one does. Not the most cheerful way to suggest that you think about friendship, perhaps, but it is a place to begin. Mattea has recorded the song on her album Lonesome Standard Time. Bill Cooley, who plays with Mattea in this video, has a n excellent album of guitar music out called In Search of Home.

Carrie Newcomer says that she was thinking about all the times someone has encouraged her when she was in a hard place when she wrote the song You Can Do This Hard Thing. As she often does when writing songs, poems, or essays, Newcomer draws on her personal experiences to make her points. From them she creates ideas and images that become universal. Newcomer has recorded the song on her album The Beautiful Not Yet.

As she makes her life as a professional musician, Cathie Ryan well knows about leave taking, and about trusting that you will see friends again and you will keep in touch with each other though time and distance may separate you. She often chooses this song, So Here’s to You, to bring her live performances to a close -- well, almost.

As she does in this clip from a show at the Great Lakes Folk Festival, she often pairs it with the witty song Johnny Be Fair and a set of reels and jigs to send her listeners home in a light hearted manner. That’s also an act of friendship shared from performer to audience. Ryan has recorded So Here’s to You on her album Somewhere Along the Road. You’ll find Johnny Be Fair and the tune set on her recording Through Wind and Rain.

You’ll enjoy other music from these artists as well. Here are stories I’ve written about some of that
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain
Kathy Mattea: Calling Me Home
Music & Mystery: Conversation with Carrie Newcomer Continues
This story is part of a series on music for these times. Here's another in the series Songs of Hope 3

Fire photograph by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Songs of Hope 3

As we make our way through public and private conversation about immigration, environmental stewardship, and political change, there’s is music. Music to help with mulling these things over, to hearing these concerns as other generations have wrestled with them, to hear them as poets and musicians work with them. Continuing the series I’ve begun of songs of hope, here is a song that speaks to the troubles of race, one that considers, albeit a bit obliquely, environmental change, another that reframes the idea of refugees, and one that offers connection and friendship over the long haul struggle.

Give a listen to these; take your time with them. Go look up the albums on which they are recorded, too, and other work by these thoughtful artists, each of whom I’ve written about here at Music Road and elsewhere in my work. To borrow a line from one of Carrie Newcomer’s lyrics -- she is another artist whose work you should know -- “Light every candle that you can, we need some light to see...”

In her song Detroit Was Burning, Cathie Ryan moves from a child’s eye view to an adult’s reflection and remembrance of the riots in that Michigan city after mart Luther KIng was shot. She has recorded it on her album called Cathie Ryan.

Eddi Reader took a fragment of a Robert Burns song and made it into a story that is both a love song and a lament. Listen to that line about “they’re turning out all of the stars...” and others... This performance of the song Leezie Lindsay was recorded at the Celtic Connections Festival several years ago, and Emily Smith joins in on harmonies. The song is most readily available on the recent retrospective album Best of Eddi Reader.

Though you could call it a Christmas song -- Gretchen Peters has recorded on her Christmas album Northern Lights, after all -- the song Waitin’ on Mary has thought provoking words and images to offer about refugees. These resonate across seasons.

In this time of almost unending news that is awful, or at least difficult and challenging, it is wise to remember that it is a long road and many of us are walking it together. Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem offer a bit of hope and connection and wise words for the road with their song Shine On. It is recorded on their album Big Old Life.

You may also wish to see
Eddi Reader sings more of the songs of Robert Burns
Some Bright Morning from Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem
Songs of Hope continued
Winter meditation

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Late Winter, Christmas, and Music

Late winter, leading up to Christmas, is a time that calls to flurries of activity and travel, preparation and celebration, even as it calls equally to reflection and quiet. Music, specifically of the season and otherwise, is always a good companion and a fine gateway to all these things. For a moment in the midst of hurry or for a longer time in the silence of night and morning, let the work of these musicians be you companion and guide.

Allow this music to renew your hope and peace and joy...

Wintersong, from New England based quartet Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem offers joy, sadness, reflection, exuberance, and good questions. All of this is framed in great harmony, fine lead singing, and top class playing on fiddle, bass, guitar, and percussion. There’s a lively treatment of Jesse Winchester’s Let’s Make a Baby King, a gospel infused spiritual from the African American tradition with Children Go Where I Send Thee. Christmas Bells finds guitarist Anand Nayak setting Longfellow’s words to a new, reflective melody. The four (Arbo on fiddle, Scott Kessel on percussion, Andrew Kinsey on bass, and Nayak on guitar; they all sing) interweave voices on a song Kinsey grew up with called Julian of Norwich. Arbo’s haunting lead well suits her original music framing words by Alfred Lord Tennyson in Ring Out Wild Bells. There’s a lifting of hope in the closing song, Singing in the Land. That’s just a hint of the music, which will make a fine companion for winter’s celebrations and questions.

The title of Heidi Talbot’s newest recording, Here We Go 1,2,3 suggests change. That is an idea that pulls through the songs, the ones she writes, and the ones she chooses from contemporary writers and from traditional sources. Talbot is Irish, living now in Scotland and married to fiddle player and composer John McCusker, who worked with her to produce this project. They’ve created a musical journey that references tradition and yet is contemporary. A clear eyed facing of shifting ground and a thread of resilience to learn from whatever comes are threads that pull through as well. These are stories, too, that leave any certain conclusion open to the hearer’s reflections. Talbot’s fine soprano and thoughtful phrasing illuminate these ideas in songs including the title track, Chelsea Piers, Song for Rose (will you remember me), and The Year That I Was Born.

...and if you happen to be looking for Christmas music, Talbot worked for some years with the band Cherish the Ladies. She is the voice on their fine seasonal album called On Christmas Night on songs including Silent NIght, The Holly and the Berry (all the women trade verses on this one), and The Castle of Dromore.

For her album Songs for Christmas, Emily Smith has chosen traditional and contemporary songs along with carols that have become favorites over the years as she done festive season concerts in her home region of Dumfries and Galloway in the southwest of Scotland. This year she’s expanded her holiday tour across Scotland, sharing such favorite carols as God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen and Silent Night along with the gentle contemporary piece Santa Will Find You, the American spiritual Heard from Heaven Today and the Scots song Christ Has My Hairt Aye. Her clear voice and thoughtful phrasing imbue the songs with holiday grace and make the collection work well together. Smith’s own songwriting shines too on Find Hope and on Winter Song.

This is Cara Dillon’s first year to offer a Christmas album. Her choices for the album, which is called Upon a Winter’s Night, are in keeping with the path she’s been following in her non seasonal work, With husband and musical partner Sam Lakeman, Dillon has created a seasonal outing that shares several original songs from the couple, a piece in Irish, a reach back in time to the twelfth century for the Wexford Carol and even further back for the Advent hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Dillon, who grew up in Northern Ireland, infuses the songs with a haunting grace and touches of Celtic connection along the way.

Carrie Newcomer’s recording The Beautiful Not Yet is not filled with carols -- it is not a seasonal album -- but the ideas of connection, of questions, of thoughtful reflection, and of staying in touch across time and miles work well with the holiday season. New comer has a gorgeous alto voice on which to tell the stories in this collection of original songs, too. It is an album that works well across the seasons -- as indeed all the recordings here do. During the winter holidays you might find Lean in Toward the Light, The Season Of Mercy, Sanctuary, and The Slender Thread especially worth hearing.

Bringing us back to Advent and Christmas, Matt and Shannon Heaton offer Fine Winter’s Night, which moves from contemplating how the cold dark skies of winter connect to warmth inside our homes and lives, to lively jigs and reels, both original and from Irish tradition. There’s a vignette of a Christmas love story set in Victorian era winter, and a story about a cat and Christmas, too, along with thoughtful presentations of carols including O Little Own of Bethlehem and It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. Shannon plays the flute, Matt plays the guitar, and they both sing, trading leads, joining in duets, and adding graceful harmonies as festive songs mix in with seasonal tunes.

Photograph at top by Jude Beck, other photographs by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Music for a Winter’s Day at Wandering Educators
Scotland, Christmas, and Music at Journey to Scotland
Music for the Heart of Winter: Cathie Ryan here at Music Road
Cherish the Ladies: storytellers in song: Christmas here at Music Road

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